March 15th, 2010
Many of us signed up for the series of classes for this moment: the day we learn to work with fondant frosting for the cakes. It's an exciting session.
I should back up and explain that the teachers, with all their integrity and love of the craft, insist on teaching the first three courses as a chronological series. You must take the basic and intermediate classes before you get to learn the advanced techniques of fondant.
"Using frosting is a basic skill that all bakers should know," explains Lori Tamashiro.
"That's right," adds co-teacher Lani Sonan. "Some top bakers on those Food Network challenges don't know how to ice. And I've seen some of them fail for their lack of icing skills. We want our students to be prepared."
I admit, I begrudgingly signed up for the first two classes, since it was a prerequisite for this course. I'm a busy mom and I like to be efficient with my time. I didn't want to learn stuff that I thought was less interesting and possibly self-explanatory. Frosting, meet piping bag. Hold, squeeze. What more?
But I was wrong. The icing classes were charming and way more fun that I anticipated, and it wasn't a misuse of my time. I got to bond with my friend Joy in a weekly activity, and get to know a bunch of other new friends. You know, we ain't talking only about cakes in there for two and a half hours. Sometimes ribald jokes and men make the list of acceptable conversation.
So here we are in advanced class, and in this course we'll work with fondant and gumpaste, because those two trendy elements go hand in hand for making those upscale cakes you often seen at weddings and food channel bake-offs. They both look like Play-Doh, except they're edible. Fondant tastes like marshmallow, but gumpaste tastes like Big Red. I don't advise eating gumpaste.
FONDANT FOR DUMMIES
I have been quite open about being a non-baker before this. I had no idea what fondant really was. Assuming you're at ground zero like I was, I'll tell you the main points of what I just learned.
1) Fondant and gumpaste is made in a factory, and you buy it. You do not make it. I didn't know that. It is pricey. The small bucket Cake Creations uses costs $80. Therefore, it pained me to feed my cake to my family and see my mom and husband peel off the fondant and discard it as being "too sweet." Eh! That was super expensive!
2) Fondant and gumpaste are hard. Gumpaste is harder than fondant. You have to knead both to soften them enough to work with. You then get your rolling pin and roll it out. Both dry extremely fast and get crackly, so you have to work with it immediately.
3) Work fast! Fondant is that smooth frosting that drapes over the cake. Immediately after rolling it out, cover the cake with it. Do not get distracted by a phone call or a bathroom break. It will dry, crack at the edges instead of shaping around the cake, and you will have to start over. You can also make decorations out of fondant.
4) If you want to pre-make decorations out of gumpaste, you should let it dry rock-hard in a cool place, for a week or two. (Time estimates are specific to Hawaii humidity.) We learned to make a couple different kinds of bows (like gift wrapping). The teachers are storing our gumpaste bows until the next class, when they should be dry.
This is why you see those TV bakers decorate the cake and then whip out pre-made flowers and such. Those decorations have been dried for weeks prior.
5) Always undercoat the cake with buttercream because other frostings are too soft and watery. The fondant will absorb the water and get tacky.
6) If you frost with fondant the night before the event, DO NOT refrigerate the cake. Because we're in Hawaii, the temperature change from cold refrigerator to humid weather will make the fondant sweaty, tacky, and slippery. With that in mind, make sure all the elements in your cake are not going to spoil sitting on the counter overnight. IE, don't use a whipped cream filling.
We all got a five inch, two-layered cake to fool around with, and cookie cutters and crimpers to make fun shapes. We learned to roll ribbon roses, which is what I did for my cake. I was so impressed with everyone's creativity. Fondant makes it pretty easy to look artistic!
You can also reach me at Diane@DianeAko.com